ISSN 2768-4261 (Online)
(Translated from Chinese by Patricia Schiaffini-Vedani)
My son is about to be two years old. He is in Shigaste.
It had been almost a whole year since I last saw him when he left Beijing, so taking advantage of a work-related trip, I made a special detour to see this son of mine whom I had not seen in such a long time. First was Beijing’s dusty weather, then foggy Chengdu. When I finally arrived in Shigatse, the dazing layer of haze seemed to be suddenly lifted, and my skylight became bright and wide.
My son shouted “Dad” from the window of the third floor of a short building.
Across the limpid air, his voice sounded as clear and melodious as the chirping of a bird in the morning forest. The few thoughts that had been tottering in my mind, transparent like pearls of dew, trembled for a second and fell into my eyes.
Last year in June, just after celebrating his first birthday, his grandparents took him back to faraway Tibet, so as to escape Beijing’s sweltering heat. When he left, he had just learned how to crawl, and as for speaking, he was still at the stage of wailing. Because we had been apart for a long time, I was a bit uneasy. I worried that when I met him again, it would be awkward if he did not recognize me, but that feeling dissipated the moment I looked upstairs.
The glow of the setting sun in Shigatse shone on my son’s face. Higher above, over the roof, hung a pure white cloud.
In life, not many memories become freezeframes. But the image of my son in the window of the third floor, cheering when he saw my arrival that evening in Shigatse, will be eternally frozen in my memory.
Shyly, with a bit of embarrassment, he approached me slowly from the side of the sofa in the living room. He was taller. I was a little dazed. It seemed as if in some kind of a dream state, I had seen this boy in front of me countless times. Maybe that was just the old me who had remained in the light of day.
His skin color looked like his mother’s, white as a peeled egg, but now his two cheeks were slightly red, like an apple showing the red of life. With the encouragement of his grandparents, my son finally walked up to me. He stuck the delicate palms of both hands to my face; puffing out his small mouth he kissed me and again, with a tender smile, called out “Dad!”
Last time we saw him, we counted a few tender teeth emerging in his mouth. Now I could see my son’s neat row of bright white teeth, time’s way of informing me of all the efforts it had taken for my son to grow this past year. My son seemed very happy as he played with the plastic toys I had brought him. I asked him, “Did you miss your Dad?”
I picked him up and asked him, “Where did you miss me?”
“Here!” My son pressed his hand against his chest. When he said these words, he spoke the authentic Tibetan dialect from Yadong, a small border town in Tibet. Although it was a dialect, I could understand it clearly. Moreover, in his words I could feel the precise power of this dialect to express subtle emotions. He kept talking to me, and I was amazed at his language talent. He seemed to possess a natural predisposition for the Yadong dialect.
I remember that shortly after my son came to Beijing, my wife and I went to the Datun Neighborhood Office to sort out his household registration. While filling out the form, we laughed at his complex identity.
Name: Tenzin Dupza.
Birthplace: Lhasa, Tibet.
Place of Ancestry: Guide, Qinghai.
Place of Permanent Residence: Chaoyang District, Beijing.
Our son finally had a legal identity and an ID number. However, my wife and I, as well as our son, faced a difficulty, and that was the choice of the environment for his upbringing: Beijing, Tibet, or even Guide, my hometown in Qinghai. We had to answer this difficult multiple-choice question for him. Because of the hometown of his parents and the place where he lived now, because of culture and language, because of emotions, reality and other factors, the moment our son was born we faced the first big choice in his life. Our son was young, so we made the decision for him and let him go back to Tibet with his grandparents. Even though it was a bit cruel, we eventually clenched our teeth and took them to the airport.
Early in the morning, I was woken up from my sleep by my son’s call. He stood by my bed and told me to get up. The curtains were open. The early morning in Shigatse was like a bright mirror. The limpid sky, faintly blue, was a little dizzying. A cluster of distant swaying clouds hung in the horizon. When I opened the window, the cool breeze blew in, and I regained a consciousness that I had not felt for a long time. My son stood beside me, greeting the quietest morning on earth.
I could not feel more gratified, knowing that every day my son could welcome a quiet morning like this.
My son’s breakfast was very simple. The same porridge of tsampa and yak butter that he has eaten since birth. He ate it carefully, while listening to his favorite song “Nuozhen Girl” on TV. He swayed his calves as he ate. This rhythm was the rhythm of his growth, the way of his life.
My son and I went out to walk under the Shigatse sunshine, one tall and one short, each of us dragging a long and a short shadow behind. The sun was starting to get a little hot. I felt that my body, soaked in dirt and moisture all year round, was gradually evaporating, my bones beginning to solidify, my soul beginning to sublimate. The sunshine felt so good!
I picked up my son.
My son raised his head, looked up and suddenly pointed to the firmament saying, “Dad! Look at Aga Dagar!”
I looked in the direction my son pointed, and there was a full moon, on the left side of the sun. The sky was so clean that you could even see the moon during the day.
Give me a pie!
Tomorrow I will give it back! . . . “
My son was singing a Tibetan children’s song! It was pure, lovely.
“Who taught you that song, son?” I asked him.
Under the Shigatse sun, my son was looking at the full moon in the sky and singing an ancient Tibetan nursery rhyme handed over to him by his grandmother.
I felt light and heavy both at the same time.
Lhashamgyal is a Tibetan author and scholar living in Beijing. He received his Ph.D. from Chengdu’s Southwest University for Nationalities in Ethnology in 2014, specializing in Tibetan Buddhism and Culture. He is the Deputy Director of the Religious Research Institute and the president of the Tibetan Youth Society of the China Tibetology Research Center. He writes in both the Tibetan and Chinese languages and has published nine books. His work has been translated into French, English, and Japanese. He is also an editor of the journal Nationality Literature (mi rigs kyi ‘tshom rigs) and a five-time recipient of the prestigious Light Rain Prize for Tibetan literature.
Patricia Schiaffini-Vedani (Ph.D. 2002) teaches the Chinese language at Texas State University. She has authored many academic papers and two books, Modern Tibetan Literature and Social Change and Enticement: Stories of Tibet. Her research deals with Sinophone Tibetan literature. She is the founder of the Tibetan Arts and Literature Initiative.
© 2021 Yeshe | A Journal of Tibetan Literature, Arts and Humanities